The theme for anti-bullying week this year is “change starts with us”. So I thought I would make a change and talk about it. Be strong about it. Because bullying has been way too close to us in recent months and I am determined the best that I can do for Little Girl C is to be an upstander. And get everyone to join in. Because change does indeed start with us – with those bullied, with those bullying and with those watching.
What do the stats say?
- 24% of children report being bullied 1x week or more in the last 6 months
- 1 in 10 children have missed school because of bullying
- 1 in 5 reported they have stayed away from spending time with friends to avoid being bullied
- 74% of children say that grown-ups need to step up to help tackle the problem
- 23% of children say their parents had not spoken to them about bullying
Me and Bullying
It was hard for me to be bullied but also hard not to be. I grew up a top student, good across most sports that we had competitions for in school and relatively democratic about my choice of friends. That made me a hard target. However, I was also a non-confident (yes, we will get to that one day) people-pleaser potentially a bit too nerdy at most times, wearing thick glasses and always feeling like the ugly duckling. That made me an easy target.
So yes, at times I was bullied. I even remember wanting to leave school in 7th grade, the age of the mean girls in my girls-only private catholic school. My parents listened until the end but pretty much told me to toughen up and wonder whether I had any blame in my claim that I had no friends. No, they were not sadists. But bullying was not a thing and indeed I probably did have to toughen up a bit. But bullying was certainly going on. I found myself new friends in the other class and acted as if I was too cool for my own class, so the problem was eventually solved and we all ended 9th grade BFFs. Girls.
Raising a confident Little Girl C
I always wanted to make Little Girl C confident. Ensure she knew of her own abilities and potential from day 1. Not in a spoiled special kid way. Just that she believed in herself and her worth. I wanted her to shortcut 32 years of my own life. I know, we all like to make our kids a better image of ourselves and that is probably not healthy. But at least I am like everybody else trying to do it.
As confidence revealed an independent girl we were then less than pleased to find out what comes with it. Stubbornness to have her way and an infinite drive to fight off any small decision for a win. As a good older sister (sorry older sisters out there) she also assumed she was the boss (if not the house, the brother) and that translated to her play-dates and her relationships. We worked with her on having empathy, talking to her into caring for others’ opinions as well. We thought we made progress.
Deep inside, I feared she might bully a few kids, so my focus for 2019 was kindness. I knew that if I could pass that one value of relationships, we would be OK. She would find her way and not hurt others.
That thought still stings.
A 5 weeks investigation
Just when we thought we were out of the angry moments that she had as Baby S had became so interesting and clearly took some of her space, suddenly things changed. The aggressive angry Little Girl was back, this time more volatile but also not targeted at us. We knew something was up, but could not point out what.
The gratitude journal came in. And I will never be able to show enough gratitude about what it did for us – a second time. We had started the journal earlier in the year, to help her stop and process her emotions and focus on the positives. It was a special moment we had together. And I knew the benefits of gratitude for the brain.
So day in and day out we were patient to go through different random thoughts:
- No one was good to me today in school
- I was happy I took my colouring book – that way everyone wanted to play with ME
- Why are you asking me who I played with?
The roles reversed
After 5 weeks, she let it out. She was suffering verbal abuse in school for quite a while. Probably, from before the time we even noticed a change in behaviour at home. Suddenly, it all came out. Ashamed and confused she claimed to me
“I thought he was my friend Mummy, I don’t understand“.
Holding back the tears that I do not hold back today as I write this 5 months later I told her it was not her fault. I fought the rage out and just let her tell us everything that was in her little head. All the anxiety it was causing her. All the shame.
You can imagine how good I felt when I had been wondering if the opposite would happen…
No, it was my confident Little Girl C who was being bullied.
I am not going to make this a how to article. It would mean I know how to deal with this. I can give you my response instead and what I have done so far, and where I think that has made a difference. And tell you to stay away from the parents if you don’t want to lose it on them (no, they never admitted to it, though the boy did right away, good on him)
- Praise the revelation: I hugged her and told her how strong she was to tell me something so difficult. That I knew it was hard to speak bad things about our friends. But that she was doing the right thing, and that we would always protect her while also supporting her in standing up for herself. We told her the bully was the one in the wrong and nothing could justify it, it was not about her. It was about him.
- Put it in writing: It took me almost 24 hours to get it on paper. At first I was hesitant, wondering what to do. Looking back I am surprised I did not walk into the school the next day to demand an explanation. But something on paper works better than an emotional vocal complaint. So that is what I did, in a formal email to the school leaving my expectation clear. I assumed the school took bullying seriously and this would be handled immediately. They did.
- Alert close ones: I quickly alerted the family for what was going on so more of us could watch out for her and ensure she was reassured that there was nothing wrong with her. I admit I took my time to share with some of the other mothers, not knowing if I was protecting her or exposing her.
5 months later
Even though it has improved, the problem is yet to be solved. That is the problem when very good students are bullies. I have been expectant waiting to see if it goes back out of control, hoping that things go back to normal. Hope is not a strategy. I added a few bits:
- Keep the school informed: as the school year started we had an open heart conversation with the new teacher. At times I thought we were overwhelming, but looking back I know it was right. I actually want a zero tolerance policy. So I guess I need to act like a zero tolerance parent. I am data gathering again for when I next put it in writing.
- Talk openly: I keep talking to Little Girl C about it. I know it has not stopped entirely and actually came back recently so we ask her a couple of times a week directly about how has he behaved or about related friends incidents. Eventually, she admitted that things had deteriorated.
- Give her tools: We were quickly able to reign it in this time by reminding her of the first step that the school has given her – go to a grown up. I managed to prevent Hubby B from teaching her step 2 – stand up for yourself – e.g. kick him where it hurts. I am afraid she may be the one ending up with a school record. But I am tempted.
I don’t know where it goes from here. She is much happier in school, has re-engaged with her learning and has stopped calling herself stupid when she misses an exercise. She has even asked for play-dates again recently.
Then in the odd week she asks when she can change school. She says she played on her own all day. It is not yet there.
This weekend, it all came back as we wrote a poem together for the school competition. She participated heavily and it was effortless to put it all on paper. She decorated it with words of kindness and things she likes to do with friends. If I have the guts, I will share it. Tear warning though. It is called “I thought he was my friend”